It has been an odd couple of weeks in racing with the sport once again showing in graphic detail its propensity to shoot itself in the foot.
Two high profile jockeys have received bans for making what can only be described as fundamental errors.
Sam Thomas rode out a finish a circuit early at Fakenham and in doing so managed to cross in front of most of his opponents. If that wasn’t a bad enough error in itself he happened to be on the odds-on favourite at the time. To say there were a large number of unhappy punters would be an understatement.
Then less than a week later Ruby Walsh rode out an extraordinary finish at Stratford. For those who are unaware of the new configuration at the Warwickshire course there is a new water jump in front of the stands which is jumped in every circuit of a steeplechase race except the final circuit.
Like other courses with a similar configuration the fence is dolled off on the final circuit as a aide memoir to the riders.
On this occasion Walsh jumped the last with his head down, riding out a finish and he failed to notice the fence was dolled off until it was too late and he was forced to jump it. Consequently he was disqualified from second place and banned for taking the incorrect course.
At the end of the day both were jockey errors and the lengthy bans handed out are justified.
The two events also illustrate the difficulty in stopping such occurrences.
Fakenham have been criticised for not having a dolling off procedure. There is also a fence in front of the stands and in Thomas’s case it was a matter of by-passing the fence a circuit too soon. Many have called for some dolling procedure to be introduces at Fakenham.
Yet at Stratford there was a dolling process in place yet a problem still arose. At the end of the day it is down to the jockeys to know how many circuits they have to ride and to familiarise themselves with the course.
On the subject of courses more embarrassment with racing at Ayr having to be Cancelled due to a patch of false ground. Then later the same day the Sandown card came to a premature halt due to concerns about safety on the home bend. If that wasn’t enough Leicester had to Cancelled its final race on Monday for similar reasons.
I am not going to become embroiled on the whys and wherefores of how the problems arose. The Clerk of the Course has a difficult job especially with the changeable weather conditions we face in this country.
I do, however, have a serious concern about the cancellation at Ayr.
Now I admit to not being any kind of expert in course management. However I find it hard to believe the patch of false ground at Ayr suddenly appeared from nowhere. Looking at the television pictures the area of suspect ground was quite obvious in that the grass was a different shade of green.
My question is this – why were concerns not made about the state of the ground sooner?
The first inspection on the patch took place 20 minutes before the scheduled off time of the first race. A time when most racegoers will have arrived at the course. Racing was not called of until 20 minutes after the scheduled start of the first race.
Are we seriously expected to believe that nobody notice this patch of false ground sooner?
Why was an inspection not called sooner? Had it done so racing could have been called off before racegoers set off to the meeting.
Situations like this do nothing to help the credibility of the sport. It comes across as being incompetently managed. Racing needs to remember there is a great deal of competition for the leisure pound. Going racing is not cheap and if courses mess around with their customers they will soon find the customers go elsewhere.
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